The book’s third and final protagonist is Gretchen’s sister, Jane, who has so far followed a fairly conventional life path. She married her college boyfriend, had two kids with him, and moved from Oak Park — the diverse and progressive neighborhood where she grew up — to Lake Forest, described by Close as a wealthy, cohesive little town up north. from Chicago, a place where Jane’s neighbors play gender-segregated bunco and assume everyone voted for Trump, too.
But Jane didn’t vote for Trump — in fact, she’s so appalled by him that she’s joining a “caucus” dedicated to progressive causes in Oak Park. “When Jane first heard the word,” writes Close, “she imagined a group of women, holding each other’s heads, making quiet plans to save the world. This, she learned, was enough precise.
The ideological clash between Jane and her neighbors leads her to plead for a return to Oak Park, but her husband, Mike, opposes it. In fact, Mike opposes a lot of Jane’s ideas lately – and seems distracted by something Jane fears goes beyond politics.
This dance between the personal and the political, and how the latter impacts the former, is the most interesting thematic element. of “Marry the ketchups”. Things around them fell apart; the Sullivans try to hold center, but increasingly they find they can’t. The center, in this case, is the restaurant itself – Sullivan’s – whose fate eternally hangs in the balance, and serves as a kind of metonymic representation of the late Bud Sullivan himself. No one wants to let go — because what would they do next? Something else worth noting about “Marrying the Ketchups” is Close’s trick of taking what might otherwise be an ordinary exchange between ordinary family members and making it somehow gripping. Half of that talent stems from her cheerful sense of humor — I smiled throughout at various amusing observations that also rang true — and the other half stems from the knack she has for coming up with stories that have l impression of very good gossip told across a hightop table over a beer with an old friend. Always, I wanted to stay for another, just to know more.
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately, as a writer and a writing teacher, is how hard it is to make everyday events compelling in fiction. “Marrying the Ketchups” is a good example of a book that performs this magic trick. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that propulsiveness is a hard quality to explain and even harder to teach – but if Jennifer Close wanted to take a class on it, I’d sign up.
Liz Moore’s most recent novel is “long luminous river.”
MARRY THE KETCUP
By Jennifer Close
320 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $28.